Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products, and Services – by Adria Vasil
Win a copy of Ecoholic! Check our Blue Planet Green Living Facebook fan page for a contest announcement related to this post. Deadline: October 15, 2009. Enter today! — Publisher
You’ve heard of alcoholics, chocoholics, workaholics, and shopaholics, but you’ve probably never heard of an ecoholic unless you’ve had the good fortune to read Adria Vasil’s book or column by the same name. Vasil defines the word ecoholic right on the cover: (when you’re addicted to the planet). Officially titled Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products, and Services, the book is a vast compendium of knowledge Vasil acquired while writing her “Ecoholic” column for Canada’s NOW Magazine during the past five years.
I’m far from finished reading — it’s the kind of guide you “drop into” as need arises, but find yourself lingering over long after you’ve found your answer. But I can tell you truthfully that I love this book.
Vasil has a no-nonsense directness and calls things like she sees them. If a product’s marketing story smacks of hypocrisy or the product itself contains cleverly disguised dangers, you can bet she’ll tell you. If there’s a hidden dark side, it’s hidden no more.
Take coffee, for example. Americans, in general, love our coffee. It’s a guilt-free drink (unless you add whipped cream), right? Here’s what Vasil has to say:
People say there’s nothing quite as American as a cup of joe and some apple pie. Maybe they’re right about the apple pie, but the red berry-covered coffee bush originated in Ethiopia, not New England. Leave it to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europeans to turn coffee into a common colonial crop, complete with slave labor and low-paid workers. And wouldn’t you know it, the legacy lives on. Up to 25 million families in developing countries worldwide spend long hours each day trimming, weeding, and handpicking coffee beans for about the price of a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. It would take them 3 days just to afford a Starbucks grande latte! It’s no wonder Global Exchange calls coffee farms “sweatshops in the fields.”
Suddenly, my morning java doesn’t seem so satisfying.
And it’s even worse with chocolate, according to Vasil. Chocoholics everywhere will find it easier to give up our addiction after learning the ugly truths behind its growth and manufacture. For example, “In the ’70s we began moving cocoa trees out of the shelter of the rainforest and onto single-crop farms in the blazing sun.” Not so bad, you say? Not if you don’t mind “high levels of chemical fertilizers and pesticides” and “felling any rainforest in the way — destroying wild habitats and increasing soil erosion and runoff — all to make room for the popular cash crop.”
Like the late-night infomercial announcer, I want to cry, “But wait! There’s more!” Vasil tells us:
Slavery is part of chocolate’s dark history, just as it is in the coffee and sugar biz. But in this case slavery isn’t just a blemish of the past. Media exposés a few years ago revealed that forced labor is still very much alive on the cocoa plantations off West Africa, where 70% of the world’s chocolate comes from. According to Save the Children, roughly 200,000 of the 600,000 children working in Ivory Coast cocoa fields work in dangerous conditions with machetes and pesticides. Many work on family farms, but an estimated 15,000 have been kidnapped or sold into slavery.
Whoa. I think I’ll follow Vasil’s advice and turn to carob, a sustainably raised crop from the Mediterranean. It’s not half bad, if you can find the right supplier.
Vasil’s writing has an edge to it, but it isn’t so snarky that it’s off-putting — at least I don’t find it so. Here’s just a taste of the kind of ride you’re in for when you settle down with her prose for a while:
DEET: As tempting as it is to douse yourself in a chemical that promises to confuse mosquitoes by biologically messing with their antennae so they can’t find their target (namely, you), DEET is obviously not the greenest option. Have you seen what it can do to a pair of sunglasses?”…
BUG CLOTHING: The only anti-insect clothing I’d recommend is the old-fashioned bug shirt. These lightweight pullover hoodies with mesh over the face offer a personal refuge of sorts when you’re in the deep woods. Think of it as the camper’s burka.
Vasil provides insights about everything from your bathroom — “You’re not ecologically groomed until you stop with the stinky synthetic shaving creams and gels” to “outer space” (which is really just the great outdoors around your home) — “A typical push mower cranks out as much hourly pollution as 11 cars. Riding mowers, 34 cars.”
Don’t have a yard of your own? Perhaps you enjoy a game of golf — “The average American golf course uses about 312,000 gallons of water per day,” Vasil says. Or maybe you do yoga in your living room — “Most yoga mats are made of what Greenpeace calls the most ecologically harmful plastic on the planet — PVC.” Ouch. Isn’t there anything that doesn’t harm the planet?
Actually, there are a lot of things we can do. Ecoholic isn’t just filled with depressing warnings against all the pleasures we consumers hold dear. This is a book that provides down-to-earth suggestions about healthy (or at least “healthier”) products to buy or to make yourself.
Instead of wall-to-wall carpet, which is almost always made with petrochemicals that off-gas VOCs, she suggests,
Cushy cork, fast-growing bamboo, and local wood flooring certified by the Forest Stewardship Council are all sustainable options (though you want to make sure that bamboo flooring is formaldehyde-free.) If you want to soften up the room, throw down a vegetable-dyed organic hemp rug … (rawganique.com).
How about candles?
Set the mood without filling the air with noxious fumes. Long-lasting beeswax is said to actually clean the air by releasing calming negative ions that cling to dust, making particles heavy so that they fall (of course, you kick them up again when you walk around, but still, kind of a cool thing). They might be pricier, but be sure to buy 100% beeswax candles — there are lots of watered downed [sic] versions on the market that are mixed with paraffin or bleached.
The other alternative is soy-based veggie wax. These candles burn clean, long, and bright, and their manufacturers say that, dollar per hour, they’re actually cheaper than paraffin.
There’s a lot more information where all this came from — over 360 easy-to-read pages of truly helpful facts and tips to satisfy the ecoholic in all of us.
What? You say you’re not an ecoholic?
If you’re not hooked by the end of the book, we might need to do an intervention.